Granville milliner Amy Hamilton continues wowing with her work while nurturing other artists
A few miles from downtown Granville, on a peaceful six-acre plot of land, next to a renovated farmhouse, inside a onetime barn that is now an art studio, surrounded by a ménage of pretty material and colorful ribbon, perched atop a stool, internationally praised milliner Amy Hamilton is--of course!--sipping a cup of tea.
She's blonde, doe-eyed and a bit reserved--but with a surprisingly wicked sense of humor--looking adorable and stunning all at once in a navy dress she made herself. Lest you think she's perfect, she quickly notes that she hates--hates--to sew, and only did it to create a prototype for her new dress line. She also can't cook. And she is genuinely flattered someone is visiting to profile her.
"I don't think I'm worthy," she says, almost embarrassed--and not in the feigned sort of way. "I just make hats."
Saying Amy Hamilton just makes hats is like saying Christian Louboutin just makes shoes. The 43-year-old's handmade creations, from large-brimmed Derby-style numbers to gravity-defying fascinators, are brilliant and beautiful. They're wearable art pieces that sell for $100 to $400 and have been featured in publications such as O The Oprah Magazine, Harper's Bazaar and Vogue Italia.
"She's got this inner magic that she lets go in her own way," says notable fabric designer and style author Amy Butler, one of Hamilton's closest friends who also lives in Granville. "She's a massive, massive talent. And we're so lucky to have her."
Paul Hamilton looked like Jesus with a black fedora on his head and a guitar in his hands. The first time Amy spotted the gregarious painter in the cafeteria line at the Columbus College of Art & Design, she told her roommates she would marry him. They didn't know the bright-blue-eyed boy's name, so began calling him "Peepers." Unbeknownst to Amy, he and his buddies started referring to her as "The Cafeteria Girl." "My face," Amy says, "would just turn bright red every time he looked at me."
Amy had grown up near a ski resort in southern Vermont that her grandfather helped found and her father helped manage. She enjoyed hitting the slopes, skied competitively and occasionally worked at the resort. From a young age, however, her passion was clear: she felt the urge to create. "But I didn't have any materials, so I would draw," she says. "I knew I was never great. I just knew I enjoyed it more than my school work."
After high school, Amy packed her suitcase for Columbus to study fashion design. When one of her professors required a project making hats, she found her calling. She liked the textures, the materials and the instant gratification of being able to finish a hat in a day. ("I have no patience!" she says,
Soon after The Cafeteria Girl graduated, she married Peepers. She had their son, Marcus, at 24, and their daughter, Lillie, a year and a half later.
Paul worked a day job and painted on the side while Amy honed her hat-making skills at home with the kids, learning largely by trial and error. (She also discovered how much money her father and mother--who waitressed part-time to help with tuition--had paid to send her to school, and wrote them a letter of apology. "I felt so bad," Amy says.)
She began peddling her hats at festivals, found a few wholesale clients and joined an artist cooperative in Yellow Springs. After a couple of years, thanks in part to good publicity in several publications, orders began flowing in from around the country.
Eventually, Paul and Amy found their plot of land in Granville for a steal. It needed a little love, a lot of creativity and boatloads of time. It was a project, indeed. And it was perfect. "It reminds me of Vermont," Amy says. "Obviously, I love it here."
Here, after more than a decade, has been reborn. Last year, the family named the property Skipping Rock Farm.
In Amy's studio, where she's sitting today with her tea at a table packed with fresh flowers, she creates two collections annually--one in spring and one in fall--and thrives on custom work. During her busy season, between Christmas and spring, she makes at least one hat a day and often enlists assistance from local seamstresses. She's not getting rich off of selling the hats, she says, as she reinvests much of what she makes back into her Granville Millinery Co. But it brings her joy. Her favorite hat is always the last one she made.
Behind her charming space, her big-dreaming, oft-disheveled husband is tinkering in his giant, airy studio that once was a cow barn.
He adores his wife in a way he almost can't describe. She's beautiful, he starts, and creative. They see the world the same way. She's giving and humble and has this huge heart, he continues. She's a loving, engaged mother. She offers honest, helpful critiques of his work. And unlike many artists--"and I'll put myself in this category," he notes--she's genuinely excited when others find success.
"I'm kind of more crazy--like fragmented and random and hard to put your finger on," Paul says. "But she's more conservative and steady. She's like Steady Eddie, and I'm kind of like the fly buzzing around the lamp."
After spending a dozen years with a retail planning company, Paul is now a fulltime painter whose portrayals of nature sell for as much as $25,000.
To celebrate their recent 20th wedding anniversary, Paul surprised Amy with a trip to Venice, Italy, where Amy filled a notebook with design ideas as they toured the city.
Back home, it's they that serve as the inspiration, often welcoming groups of people from museums or galleries who are curious to see artists at work. (Their children also remain immersed in art; their son is a freshman at CCAD and their daughter often models Amy's hats.)
It's obvious they are at the heart of the small, tight-knit circle that makes this town Central Ohio's unofficial Capital of Creative Souls. And they live a life they clearly relish.
"When I go out to their farm, I'm just blown away," says Amy Butler, who also went to CCAD. "They're just like these creative elves out there."
The small window-front space in downtown Bexley was vacant, Amy noticed, as she left one of Paul's autumn gallery openings. Having long fantasized about having her own shop, she called the realtor. She signed a short-term lease the day after Thanksgiving, invited a young couple she and Paul met through artist friends to join the venture, and opened the Skipping Rock Farm Pop-Up Shop in less than two weeks. The store sells Amy's hats and the young couple's collection of vintage clothing, along with other items like new handbags and revamped furniture.
Amy's pet project? Choosing other artists whose work she can showcase and sell in weekly trunk shows at the shop. "It's just hard as an artist to find opportunities," she says. "It's such a great feeling (to find success), and I want to give that to the next artist."
Molly Lancaster, who is running the shop with Amy, said she and her husband feel fortunate Amy and Paul have taken them under their wing. "They just are able to see things the way they're supposed to be and the way they're meant to be," Lancaster says. "She and Paul really want to support the community and support local artists."
The shop's success has already warranted an extended lease, so it will be open through April. And Amy has been tweaking a dress line she's designed, so customers can choose a design and fabric and have a dress custom made.
But it's not the only thing Amy has brewing.
A year and a half ago, she started teaching hat-making workshops in her studio, and they're drawing people from as far as Boston and San Francisco. "It's like the most amazing day, because you have all these kindred spirits," Amy says. "It's so much more fun than being in my studio alone."
Last year, she began teaching CCAD's first-ever millinery class. "I realized I love teaching hat making more than I love making hats to sell," she says. "If a hat doesn't sell, I feel like it's a failure."
And now, she and Paul are considering turning their property into a luxury camping retreat for artists, complete with mini cabins and a gift shop. Amy has a binder filled with inspiration and Paul already has built the first cabin.
"It's brilliant," their friend Butler says.
And so, Paul says, is his wife.
Instead of working in isolation like most artists, she is spending this phase of her life collaborating, he notes. And that tells a lot about who she is.
"If you really can see what she's doing," he says, "it's quite amazing."